Henry Hank Ketcham created Dennis the Menace in October 1950, and it was syndicated to 16 newspapers the following March. Today the comic is distributed by King Features Syndicate to more than 1,000 newspapers in 48 countries and is translated into 19 languages.
Ketcham kept a hand in the day-to-day production of the famous comic strip up until his death in June 2001. Many years earlier, he hand-picked two artists, Marcus Hamilton and Ronald Ferdinand (who produce the daily panel and Sunday page, respectively), as his assistants as he became increasingly involved in a fine arts career. This talented twosome has continued to produce Dennis the Menace.
Ketcham was born on March 14, 1920, in Seattle. He became interested in drawing at the age of 7 when a local art director, a friend of the family's, doodled cartoon sketches to amuse him. The bug bit, and Ketcham practiced cartooning in every spare moment of his school years.
He entered the University of Washington in 1937 as an art major, but after a year, the cartooning urge lured him to Hollywood and the Walter Lantz animation (pre-Woody Woodpecker) studio. Moving to the Walt Disney studios, he worked on Pinocchio, Fantasia and other Disney productions for two and a half years until Pearl Harbor Day.
He enlisted in the Navy and, as chief photography specialist, spent the next four years in Washington, D.C., developing cartoons, magazines, posters and animated film spots to promote the sale of war bonds.
To supplement his serviceman's pay, Ketcham began drawing cartoons for magazines, including a weekly panel that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.
After the war, he plunged full time into the competitive free-lance cartooning market. He quickly became one of the country's most successful and prolific cartoonists, selling his work regularly to Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, Liberty and The New Yorker, as well as to advertising agencies. By this time, Ketcham was also married and the father of a boy named Dennis.
Ketcham's success enabled him to travel extensively. He lived in Switzerland for 18 years, where he worked on his feature from a penthouse studio overlooking Lake Geneva.
Ketcham received the Billy DeBeck Trophy (now called the Reuben Award) from the National Cartoonists Society as the outstanding cartoonist of 1952. In 1956, he received the Boys Clubs of America certificate for Best Magazine Comic. The NCS also presented Ketcham with its Silver T-Square Award in 1978 in recognition of his outstanding service to the society and the cartooning profession.
In 1982, he received the Inkpot Award from the San Diego Comic Convention as outstanding cartoonist of the year.
Ketcham expanded his lovable imp's popularity through a variety of other media. The hit network live action television series starring Jay North ran from 1959 to 1963 and still appears on stations around the country. A two-hour, prime-time, live-action Dennis the Menace special broadcast aired in 1987 in 114 markets nationwide.
Ninety-six half-hours featuring Dennis' animated adventures, produced for the General Mills Corp. in 1988 to 1989, are distributed to independent television markets worldwide. Targeted to an audience of younger children, the series runs each weekday and is remarkably successful.
More than 50 million Dennis books have been sold.
One of Ketcham's favorites in the large mix of publishing ventures became a collectors' item: Dennis and the Bible Kids. It featured Bible stories as told by Dennis.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the panel, Abbeville Press published The Merchant of Dennis (1990), Ketcham's autobiography, and a companion piece, Dennis the Menace: His First Forty Years (1991), a collection of more than 800 panels plus a section of color Sunday pages.
Dennis' civic-mindedness has made him a popular spokescharacter for many worthy causes, including the Boy Scouts of America, Unicef and the International Red Cross.
He promoted two public-service messages through comic books, titled Dennis Takes a Poke at Poison and Coping With Family Stress.
The half-pint's image appears on a myriad of licensed products, from lunchboxes to greeting cards.
The Dennis the Menace Playground in Monterey, Calif., brings enjoyment to children of the area all year round and has served as a model for Dennis the Menace parks across the country.
Ketcham delighted in the ongoing development of a Broadway musical. In 1987, Tom Poston starred as Mr. Wilson, Dennis' long-suffering neighbor, in a workshop production that ran at the Cherry County Playhouse in Traverse City, Mich. In 1990, Dennis enjoyed a run at the Olney Playhouse in Maryland. Another series of workshop performances appeared in 1991 at the Coterie-Foley Theatre in Kansas City, Mo.
Warner Bros. released the Dennis the Menace movie in 1993, starring Walter Matthau as Mr. Wilson and Mason Gamble as Dennis. A 1998 sequel went directly to videotape, finding a broad home entertainment audience.